Owen Tippett

NHL Power Rankings: 10 most exciting rookies for 2019-20 season

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In this week’s NHL Power Rankings we continue to get you ready for the start of the 2019-20 season by looking ahead to some of the most exciting rookies in the league this season.

Included among them are the top two picks from the 2019 NHL draft class, a potentially overlooked New York Rangers prospect, and some key young players that could play big roles on contenders.

To the rankings!

1. Kaapo Kakko, New York Rangers. The highlight of a wildly successful offseason in Manhattan was the Rangers moving up to the No. 2 overall pick in the draft lottery and winning the opportunity to select Kakko. He has been a highlight reel at every stage of his development and is the most fascinating rookie in this year’s class. He has NHL size, incredible skill, and pretty much everything an NHL team could want in a potential franchise player. The Rangers added a ton of talent to their roster this summer and Kakko might be the most important long-term piece to join the team during this rebuild. You need superstars to win, and Kakko has that potential.

2. Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils. Just like their arch-rivals, the Devils had a huge offseason that saw them hit the jackpot in the draft lottery to to win their second No. 1 overall pick in three years. Hughes scored two goals in his preseason debut and is going to enter the season as one of the Calder Trophy favorites. The fierce rivalry between the Rangers and Devils, as well as the fact the Rangers took Kakko No. 2 overall, is going to be a great subplot to their careers and development.

3. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche. He was a late addition to the Avalanche’s postseason roster last spring and made an immediate impact. The Avalanche did not really shelter him much, and with Tyson Barrie having finally been traded after years of rumors they are going to have to lean heavily on Makar and Samuel Girard to play huge roles on their blue line.

4. Vitali Kravtsov, New York Rangers. Lost in all of the Kakko hype is that the Rangers’ have another top prospect ready to make his NHL debut this season. Kravtsov has spent the past three seasons playing in the KHL and more than held his own as a teenager, finishing the 2018-19 season as the third-leading scorer on his team. With him and Kappo making their NHL debuts this season there is plenty of reason for Rangers fans to be excited about their future.

5. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks. Even though the Canucks haven’t had any draft lottery luck over the past four years they have still managed to pick some franchise cornerstones with their top picks. Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson already look like stars at forward, and now they get to see what Hughes can do on the blue line over a full season. He doesn’t have great size, but he has a ton of skill and has top-pairing potential. For a team that desperately needs a young impact player on defense, Hughes is going to be an important part of the Canucks’ rebuild.

6. Sam Steel, Anaheim Ducks. Even though he played 22 games in the NHL a year ago, Steel will still barely qualify as a rookie this season (the cut off is 25 games before the current season). He showed a ton of potential last year with 41 points in 53 games in the AHL, while also scoring six goals in his first brief taste of the NHL. With Corey Perry gone and Ryan Kesler out for the season the Ducks need their young players to take a big step, and Steel should be the one capable of making the biggest impact.

7. Ryan Poehling, Montreal Canadiens. After spending three years at St. Cloud, the 2017 first-round pick had a chance to play one game at the NHL level last year and it could not have gone any better for him, scoring three goals including the game-winner against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He figures to play a big role for the Canadiens this season and alongside Jesperi Kotkaniemi gives the Canadiens two promising young forwards to build around.

8. Alexandre Texier, Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets have high hopes for Texier and they are going to need him to him to produce after the team said goodbye to Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel this summer. He never looked out of place a year ago, scoring three goals in his first 10 games (including two goals in eight playoff games).

9. Martin Necas, Carolina Hurricanes. While most of the attention in Carolina gets focussed on the quality and depth of their defense, they are quietly assembling quite a collection of forwards as well. Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Nino Neiderreiter are all already outstanding players, while Andrei Svechnikov looks like he is on track to be a star. This year they should add another young piece to that core with Necas. He had a great year in the AHL (his first full season of pro hockey in North America) and is just another outstanding young player in an organization that is already full of them.

10. Dylan Cozens, Buffalo Sabres. One of the players from the 2019 draft class after the top-two that has a real chance to stick in the NHL this season. That is still not a given at this point (and probably the biggest reason he is not higher on the list) but he has had a strong showing in camp and is giving the Sabres plenty of reasons to give him a look into the regular season. He still has junior eligibility, but the Sabres aren’t exactly loaded up front and would be an intriguing addition to alongside Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner.

Honorable mentions: Filip Zadina (Detroit Red Wings); Evan Bouchard (Edmonton Oilers); Owen Tippett (Florida Panthers); Eeli Tolvanen (Nashville Predators); Erik Brannstrom (Ottawa Senators).

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Oilers show rare restraint by demoting Yamamoto

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Aside from “not messing up Connor McDavid,” the Edmonton Oilers haven’t inspired a lot of confidence in how they handle young forwards.

It’s not just about getting questionable returns for high picks like Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov, and Jordan Eberle. There have been some bumpy development paths, and some of those wounds are self-inflicted, as management has a shaky track record of burning through rookie years in ways that are often wasteful.

Jesse Puljujärvi isn’t the only example one could reach for, but he’s the most recent. Puljujärvi finds himself below the NHL level at the moment, which isn’t a big deal – he’s still just 19 – yet he already burned through the first year of his entry-level contract in 2016-17 by playing 28 games.

Considering the Oilers’ recent history of paying huge premiums for second contracts (McDavid and Leon Draisaitl raising the already-high-bar that was $6M going to guys like Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), that situation might make some a little queasy.

Then again, perhaps they’ll get their act together going forward?

Monday presented some reason for optimism, as the Oilers showed a rare bit of restraint (for them) in assigning Kailer Yamamoto to the WHL. They did so while preserving the high-value ELC years of his rookie deal, as they made this call before he exceeded the nine-game mark this season. This is usually simple stuff for NHL teams, but Edmonton bungles this often enough that it’s worth celebrating.

Goodbye Moto

This makes for quite the whirlwind few months for the 19-year-old.

It’s common to see high draft picks make an immediate jump to the NHL, and for guys hovering around the top 10 to at least get a cup of coffee. Yamamoto, however, was the 22nd pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. It’s rare to see guys in that range demand a long, immediate look, and so far it looks like the Oilers got a steal in the undersized forward.

He forced his way into some prominent situations, too.

While his ice time and opportunities were erratic, it’s worth noting that, per Natural Stat Trick, his most common even-strength linemates were Connor McDavid and Patrick Maroon. Yamamoto didn’t look out of place in his audition on that first line, providing a silver lining while Leon Draisaitl (another forward who burned through his rookie deal faster than maybe necessary) was injured.

Somewhat amusingly, Yamamoto might have actually made one of the better arguments to stay up, as his possession numbers and production indicated that he’s a quick study.

In the long run, this is a better move for the Oilers, especially since McDavid’s raise won’t kick in until 2018-19. They’ll need to find bargains going forward, so getting the most out of Yamamoto’s dirt-cheap rookie contract could be absolutely crucial.

Now, three full years of Yamamoto as he really kicks into gear could drive up the price of his second contract, too. Eh, worry about that when you get there … that’s practically the Oilers’ developmental model anyway, right?

Panthers send Big Red down

Owen Tippett drew some attention in getting a look with the Florida Panthers, in part by comparing himself to rookie Phil Kessel.

Tippett won’t be making that jump, as the Panthers demoted him today. He didn’t get a huge chance, generating a goal in seven games while only averaging 11:07 TOI per night. (At least Tippett fired away relative to spotty ice time: 17 SOG in seven contests isn’t bad in sparse minutes. The kid still seems confident.)

This situation is a lot clearer for the Panthers than it was for the Oilers, but either way, both teams probably made the right calls.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.